Photo: Photo: jtuason (Flickr)
Why do some people become extremely successful, while the rest of us work really hard and do fine but not great?Robert Jordan interviewed 45 founders for his book, “How They Did It.”
Each entrepreneur started a company from nothing and either sold for $100 million+ or went public for $300 million+. In total, those interviewed created roughly $41 billion from scratch.
We asked Jordan what separates extremely successful business people from everyone else.
Here are the 10 traits they share >>
*Note: not all people interviewed in Jordan’s book are billionaires. They all have self-made fortunes and did not inherit their money or family businesses. Click here to buy a copy of How They Did It.
Almost every entrepreneur Jordan interviewed made their fortune from a simple idea.
'They tended to be things that the rest of us would overlook. Very few made you think, Oh my god, it's the cure for cancer. That is not the formula for how you get to a billion-dollar level,' Jordan says.
Founder of Biomet Dane Miller is a prime example. 'In the end, Miller was producing highly engineered products -- artificial hips and knees. But in the beginning, he was selling slings, as in arm slings. Slings are what he left the security of his previous company for.'
Where most people would see a crack in the wall, Jordan says billionaires find gaping holes.
'They are incredibly curious; what the rest of the world thinks is a problem and complains about -- that's what these people go and work on,' he says.
James Dolan of The Dolan Company is an example of this. 'At one point, Dolan bought a hundred-year-old legal newspaper. The first thing he did was have the staff survey every single subscriber. They found the reason people were reading the paper wasn't for the news. It was for the legal notices of foreclosure they ran,' says Jordan.
'So, Dolan turned the company on its head and created the largest national court reporting service on foreclosures. This process used to take three months and caused credit card companies and banks billions of dollars; Dolan turned it into real-time reporting all because he bought a hundred-year-old newspaper. Dolan saw something that everyone else overlooked; they figured it wasn't worth anything.'
They crash through obstacles: Joe Piscopo had an angry employee who destroyed every byte of computer data
When a company like Groupon gets offered a billion-dollar buyout, it seems to most people like they won the lottery. Jordan explains that no billionaire has it easy. In fact, most had to overcome impossible problems.
'It just happens as a matter of fact that everybody who hits the billion-dollar level hits massive challenges, without exception.' says Jordan. 'Some of this stuff is so massive it makes you think, I don't know how they got passed it.'
A great example is Joe Piscopo of Pansophic. 'An employee got pissed off, took an electromagnet, and walked through their data centre. He destroyed every last byte of data sitting on their computers,' says Jordan. 'If that isn't a company destroyer, I don't know what is! And they actually survived.'
They are excellent problem solvers: Rock Mackie laid off all his employees and still went public at a billion-dollar valuation
Most people try to avoid failing. This is not a concern for many billionaires. Some seem to actively seek failure by taking big risks.
'Many people go about business in a very cautious way, through networking and things like that. That's not what these people did. They actually had a moment where they had to take a risk, and they did it,' says Jordan.
Vince Pettinelli, founder of PeopleServe, did just that. 'When he started his company, he was 35 and the head of mental health programs for the state of Ohio. He just didn't want to do it anymore. He wanted to be in business for himself,' says Jordan.
'When Pettinelli told his wife he was quitting his job, she practically gnashed her teeth,' says Jordan. 'She said, You're going to do WHAT?! There was a point with all of these folks where they realised they just had to go do this.'
Still, Pettinelli opened up a first home for severely retarded people. That doesn't sound like a recipe for getting rich, but he ended up with 7,800 residents and sold to ResCare for $200 million.
'This is a group that is far less cynical than the rest of the world,' says Jordan of the billionaires. 'That's just not the way they look at the world. They have a passionate desire.'
Jordan is a firm believer that attitude trumps skill set and uses Dane Miller of BioMed as an example.
'At the time, people thought the only material you could use in the human body was stainless steel. He wanted to prove to the world that titanium was really a better product,' says Jordan.
'Miller called an orthopedic surgeon friend and had him plant a piece of titanium in his arm. He walked around with it in for 10 years. None of his other cofounders did that. To me, that's dedication. There really was passion behind that.'
The major difference between regular individuals and successful billionaires is what they do with their strikeouts, says Jordan.
Bill Merchantz created Lakeview Technology. The ultimate product that made him his fortune was derived from an utter disaster. Jordan says, 'Their initial software failed and everything basically blew up. On an emergency basis, they had to come up with new software for critical failures.'
'That software proved to be so valuable that they spun it into a new company. That was what ended up making his fortune -- the software from the failure.'
Billionaire Jim Dolan has one piece of advice for all aspiring entrepreneurs: 'The problem is boredom. If I'm bored, I may break something just for the fun of fixing it. That's kind of rough on the people who actually work in the company, you know?'
David Becker, founder of First Internet Bank, understands that sentiment exactly. 'Becker was in a skiing accident and he said he couldn't deal with the boredom, so he bought a company while he was in the hospital,' says Jordan.
Most billionaires and their companies take years to become successful. It never happens overnight. Even companies that seem like overnight successes to the public really don't happen that way.
Groupon found relatively quick success, but that was still a long and painful process. 'Co-founder Eric Lefkofsky explained to me that Groupon was an experiment from a failed company called The Point,' says Jordan.
'They were literally returning money to investors with they tried this side project and it worked. So that success was years in the making for the company and its investors.'
Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg. The world tends to think of these people as solo founders. A lot of them are. But they would not have succeeded without key employees and other, lesser known, co-founders.
'None of these people did it alone,' says Jordan. 'Even solo guys have examples of key employees, management teams that came in -- a core group of people that they had.
'Bill Gates is the known quantity as the founder of Microsoft, but he wouldn't have gotten anywhere without Steve Ballmer and everyone else around him. I think they just figured, 'He's rich, let him just be the lightning rod of the company.' But none of it was a solo act.'
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